‘Me against the world’: why superheroes are so often orphaned | Comics and graphic novels

Spider-Man, Batman, Black Panther and Superman, comic book stars printed in comic books and at the bottom of newspaper pages, have gone on to inspire movie franchises or, in the case of Little Orphan Annie, which began in a union band. , a popular stage and film musical.

Celebrated in popular culture around the world, these fictional characters are all children who lost their parents at an early age. It’s a tried-and-true tragic narrative formula that effectively frees them all over the world, while exposing them to danger.

In April, the Foundling Museum in London will mount a major exhibition that delves into the enduring and powerful presence of orphans, adoptees and foster children in comic book storytelling.

“It’s a part of our society that we don’t think about or talk about much, but it’s hiding in plain sight in popular culture,” said Caro Howell, director of the museum, founded in 1739. as a shelter for abandoned children.

“Since little Annie, the world has known how these characters survived without parents, but it’s a lived reality for hundreds of thousands of children growing up away from family or care. Like these fictional orphans, they need immense resilience to overcome trauma and build identity.How do they build a sense of self-esteem?, says Howel.

The Exhibition, Superheroes, Orphans & Origins: 125 Years in Comics, will cover the narrative threads featured in mainstream comics, graphic novels, and sequential art in different countries, and examine the dark origins and complex identities of some of the most popular characters.

Amina from Zenobia is a Syrian refugee. Photography: Morten Dürr and Lars Horneman

DC Comics’ Superman has been found by his adoptive parents, while Spider-Man’s mother and father die in a plane crash. Batman’s parents are killed in a street robbery and Black Panther is known as “the Orphan King” after his mother dies shortly after childbirth and his father is killed. Marvel’s X-Men also experience early discrimination and social ostracization that later shapes the stance they take on good and evil.

But it’s not just about traditional superheroes in garish outfits. The exhibition will also look at other characters from early newspaper strips, including Skeezix from gasoline alley, left on his doorstep in 1921.

And among the original artwork shown for the first time, in 2021 artist Robyn Smith will recreate Nubia, Wonder Woman’s dark sister, for DC Comics. “These are people who had to build their identity in a context of great social stigma. They are strangers,” Howell said. “It’s also the source of their power and what makes them special. But it keeps them lonely, sometimes struggling to form a permanent relationship.

Images of Superman and Batman from the 1940s and 1950s will be featured alongside early Marvel copies Black Panther and special editions of x-men 1970s and 1980s. Original drawings by Sunny and other historical comics including Hogan’s Alley, are exhibited, as well as Sanmao, which translates to “three hairs” and was created in 1935 by famous Chinese cartoonist Zhang Leping. It is exhibited for the first time in Great Britain.

The exhibition has its origins in a 2014 work commissioned by the museum from poet and performer Lemn Sissay, who grew up in a foster home. His Poem Superman Was a Foundling was printed on the walls of the museum’s study studio and was intended to draw attention to the disparity between our admiration for adopted, adopted, or orphaned fictional characters and what Sissay saw as a widespread disdain for their real-life counterparts.

“For people who grew up without biological parents, the Foundling Museum is a place of visibility and even validation,” Howell said. “By exploring this overlooked aspect of the superhero origin story, we hope to raise awareness of the immense resilience needed to overcome separation, loss, stigma, and societal indifference.”

Many other works on display were created by international artists inspired by their own experiences in care. Carlos Giménez, creator of Paracuellos (1976), spent much of his Spanish childhood moving between the “welfare” homes created during the Franco era.

The 2019 work of Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom Palimpsest reflects on her status as an international adoptee. Born in Korea, she lived in an orphanage until the age of two, then was adopted, and lived in Sweden. Keiji Nakazawa survived the Hiroshima bombing, but his father, brother and sister died. His mother later died of related health issues, which prompted him to create the manga series Barefoot Generation.

Themes of abandonment and identity are traced through comics to the present day. 1990s and early 2000s Japanese manga characters, Kuro and Shiro from Tekkonkinkreet, appear alongside American comic Jesse “Street Angel” Sanchez and contemporary graphic novel protagonists, including Amina from Zenobia, who is a Syrian refugee.

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